OPINION | Why is the Madre de Dios Covenant for Environmental Justice in Peru important?
By: Cesar Ipenza, lawyer specialized in environmental matters and subscriber of the Madre de Dios Covenant for Environmental Justice
To speak of environmental justice, we must remember the breadth of this, and that transcends judicial (criminal and civil), administrative and constitutional processes, allowing the exercise of our right to enjoy a healthy and balanced environment.
This issue is not isolated from the processes in which Peru is immersed. For example, they are aligned with the recommendations made by the OECD to our country, within the framework of the Environmental Performance Evaluation. This implies, among other issues, "improving the capabilities of the Judiciary, the Public Ministry and other entities of the justice system with responsibility for applying the law to address environmental issues, the creation of specialized courts, expanding training mechanisms, as well as improving the capabilities of technical and scientific support for the work of administration of justice”.
Various State institutions led by the Judicial Branch, through its National Commission for Environmental Management, are promoting the initiative called "Madre de Dios Covenant for Environmental Justice”. This commitment will lead many sectors and Powers of the State to improve the conditions to implement existing mechanisms for the protection of human rights, of life, of health and safety for enjoying a healthy and balanced environment. Rights that are recognized in the Political Constitution of Peru.
This initiative highlights the need to advance in the implementation of performance improvements of Environmental Justice in Peru and implement common commitments related to access and enforcement of the law in the face of the growing number of lawsuits and claims that are being registered in administrative matters, criminal, administrative, constitutional and civil litigation. In addition, it is necessary to disseminate the scope and importance of environmental principles and rights, as well as environmental management. Those are actions that have been developed through training activities, even more so when the high specialisation of environmental management requires it and not only with the Judicial Power, but also with the Specialized Prosecutor's Offices in Environmental Matters and with the general public.
Defenders of the Environment: A priority to guarantee environmental justice
Without a doubt, a priority that is becoming more evident every day is to approach and implement mechanisms that protect human rights defenders in environmental matters1. It is important to recognize or start from the premise that, although environmental rights are collected in more than one hundred (100) Constitutions, they need to be applied and generate both mechanisms and guarantees for all authorities and citizens working to fulfill this right. However, "between 2002 and 2013, 908 people died defending the environment and land in 35 countries. In 2017 the trend worsened, four environmental defenders were killed every week, according to the NGO Global Witness, documented in January 2018. Between 40% and 50% of the 197 defenders murdered in 2017 came from indigenous and local communities"2.
In this context, the Peruvian State approved the National Human Rights Plan 2017-2021 through Supreme Decree No. 002-2018-JUS, in whose strategic guideline No. 3 on Policy Design and Execution in Favor of Special Protection Groups, Human Rights Defenders are considered, the Peruvian State undertakes to promote mechanisms to guarantee the safe exercise of the peaceful and non-violent, paid or free work of human rights defenders throughout the national territory.
The recent death of the missionary and defender of the environment, Paul McAuley (71) from Great Britain, who was found dead in the shelter that he himself founded for indigenous schoolchildren, demonstrates the need to implement this mechanism that is part of the mandate of our State and that should not go unpunished.
1. Defenders of environmental human rights are those individuals and groups who, personally or professionally, strive to protect and promote human rights related to the environment. According to the rapporteur, "their origins are diverse and they work in different ways. Some are lawyers or journalists, but many are ordinary people who live in remote villages, forests or mountains, who may not even be aware that they are acting as environmental defenders in pursuit of respect for human rights”. Report by Mr. Michael Frost , Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.